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Articles > Dogs

Is A Dog Right For An Elderly Family Member?

Topic: Dogs for Seniors

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Tags: Training, Travel

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The physical and health benefits with owning a dog are well documented, regardless of your age or youth. Dogs will help senior citizens stay active, interact with others as well as kept them to stay mentally more alert and less likely to become depressed or anxious. This is also true for dogs with adults or children of any age, which is one reason why dogs and cats are so popular throughout the world.

With all the benefits of owning a dog very obvious, well researched and documented it may be tempting to make the assumption that any senior citizen will benefit from owing a dog. In fact not all seniors will make a good match for a dog, and not all seniors may want to have the added responsibility and restrictions that occur because they have a pet. Taking the time to think of all the pros and cons to having a dog is an important first step in deciding, with the individual, if a dog is a good pet.

Assessing For Activity Levels

Not all senior citizens are physically able to care for a dog, regardless of how active or sedate the breed may be. In general most dogs that are good matches for elderly owners are moderately active with moderate energy levels and an ability to self-exercise. This means that on days that are just too cold, wet or hot the dog can spend time playing in the house or running about in a fenced yard and doesn't need a long, intensive walk or time running off leash at the dog park.

An elderly person that is not active can still own a dog providing there is someone in the community, family or area that will commit to providing routine exercise for the dog. Dog walkers are also an option and some home care assistants will include dog walking for an elderly person as part of their contracted jobs or routine assignments.

Elderly patients in wheelchairs or walkers can still routinely exercise their dogs, especially if the dog is trained as an assistance dog or has high levels of obedience training. Training through the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program can really help the dog and the senior in working together to avoid any possible issues while the dog is out and about. Owners with wheelchairs or walkers may wish to consider a larger dog since they may be more advantageous as an assistance dog when properly trained.

Very active senior citizens will be best paired with the higher activity level dogs. This doesn't mean the dogs in this group are hyper, it just means they are naturally more active and have higher interest in athletic and active types of interactions.

Assessing For Training

It is important to establish if the elderly person feels comfortable in training his or her own dog or puppy or if they wish to start with a dog that is obedience and housetrained. There are literally thousands of dogs at shelters and rescues that would love to be adopted and placed in a wonderful, loving home.

Many older adults have lots of experience in dog training that can also be put to great use in working with a younger dog or a puppy. Talking to the person and discussing if they want to take on the task of training is perhaps the most obvious way to determine what level of training is required.


Many seniors love to travel and spend weeks or even months every year vacationing. Holidays or winter vacations spent in Florida or hot summer months spend in the New England states are popular options for retired couples and singles. If the senior citizen loves to travel having a dog may be a challenge.

Choosing a small or toy breed that is easy to travel with is one option, especially if the individual is staying in their own home or apartment or with a family member at their destination spot. Many hotels, resorts and even time-shares are very dog friendly, especially with the smaller breeds that are well behaved. In addition airlines and other forms of public transportation are generally open to dogs that are in carriers and quiet.

For some seniors that like to travel having a dog can somewhat restrict their comfort level in being able to move around and spontaneously take trips when they want to. Having a dog means having to either bring the pet with you or kennel it. Many seniors find this additional cost, which can be a hundred dollars or more for a week at some deluxe types of kennels, an extra expense they just can't afford. In addition sometimes the family is not able to care for the dog or the person just doesn't want to ask, feeling they may be imposing on family members.


There is also a lifestyle issue to consider, which in part is affected by where the senior lives. If he or she is living in their own house or apartment the decision is usually solely based on their own comfort level with having a pet. If they are living in a senior citizen community, assisted living complex or even in some of the senior apartments there may be restrictions on having pets. Some buildings and complexes allow for small sized dogs but not large breeds while others allow dogs of all sizes provided there are not complaints from other tenants.

It is also essential to keep in mind that most dogs will have a lifespan of 10-15 or more years, depending on the breed. Many seniors don't want to have a pet for fear of what will happen to the dog if they cannot continue to provide care. A family member that commits to taking in the dog or providing support and care for the pet while it lives with the senior can really be a great emotional support. Knowing that a loving, caring family will adopt the dog when the senior can no longer provide full time care is often the most important aspect in determining if a dog is a good match for the elderly person.

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